President Raul Castro (pictured) says that Cuba will not make moves to appease the United States, although Castro says he is open to more dialogue. US President Barack Obama recently called for Havana to make goodwill "gestures".
AFP - Cuba will not make symbolic "gestures" to appease the United States, President Raul Castro bluntly declared Wednesday, even as the Cuban leader left the door open to more dialogue.
In a first direct Cuban response to a US call for gestures from communist Cuba, Castro, 77, told a Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Havana that any forthcoming shows of goodwill need to start from the US side.
"Cuba is not the one that stops its country's businessmen from doing business with ours; Cuba is not the one punishing financial transactions by US banks," the Cuban leader said.
The neighboring countries do not have full diplomatic relations and Castro's stern words were in counterpoint to what is generally seen as a period of improving relations after 50 years of tense US-Cuban ties.
But US President Barack Obama rankled Havana with his call at a recent regional summit in Trinidad-Tobago for "gestures" -- the US leader directly mentioned a release of political prisoners -- by Cuba.
Castro on Wednesday stressed that: "Cuba does not have a military base on US territory against the will of its people" -- a clear reference to the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, steeped in controversy worldwide thanks to its use as a US war-on-terror prison camp.
Havana has demanded that the United States leave the Guantanamo base for decades, but Washington insists it has a right to stay.
Clearly, Castro said: "Cuba has not imposed any sanction on the United States or its citizens.
"Cuba is not the one that needs to make gestures," Castro argued.
Sidestepping the tougher talk, the Cuban president reiterated Havana's willingness to talk to the United States in a dialogue with no preconditions.
And while he welcomed Obama's shift to allow travel and unlimited remittances by Cuban-Americans, Castro stressed that the US policy changes have had only a "minimal impact."
"We have reiterated our willingness to talk about everything with the United States, with no preconditions, but not to negotiate our sovereignty or political and social systems, and the right to self-determination in our domestic affairs," Raul Castro added.
He said that bilateral dialogue could include "everything, absolutely everything on our side, but also (what is) on their side -- with no preconditions."
The Cuban president's remarks came after a senior US diplomat and the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington met this week, following Washington's recent overtures to the communist island.
Obama has lifted travel and money transfer restrictions on Americans with relatives in Cuba.
However the US president has not actively backed ending the 47-year-old US economic embargo on Cuba, instead urging Havana to show progress on human rights.
Observers have noted however that hammering Cuba on human rights -- a strategy employed over the decades by eight US presidents before Obama -- seems unlikely to be any more productive for the current administration than it has been for past ones.
Preserving and projecting the communist regime is Cuba's top priority, and one it is on the verge of being able to fund by itself, if it strikes oil in the near future as it hopes to do with international partners.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood reacted to Castro's remarks saying: "We're interested in a dialogue with Cuba, but I think the international community wants to see some steps from Havana to see, to gauge how serious the government there is willing to have a dialogue about ... the range of issues that we're all concerned about."
Woods stressed: "Nothing has changed in terms of what we'd like to see come from the Cuban government ... to assure not only the United States, but other countries, that it is serious about having a dialogue and dealing with some of these issues that concern us all."
Date created : 2009-04-29